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Sunday, October 26, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 47.0° F  Fair
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Mifflin Street Block Party worth its weight in consequences
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A arrested reveler at the Mifflin Street Block Party in 2007 is led away into custody.
A arrested reveler at the Mifflin Street Block Party in 2007 is led away into custody.
Credit:Kristian Knutsen

The Mifflin Street Block Party has a reputation as a binge-drinking bonanza -- a weekend to celebrate the end of the semester before buckling down for finals. The public outcry against the drunk fest is widely publicized, but what do the students think? Are the drinking tickets, the potential assaults and the inevitable property damage worth these 24 hours of debauchery?

From students who live on the 400 and 500 blocks of West Mifflin and those who only come for the party, the resounding answer is yes, the block party is more than worth its consequences. Despite exorbitant tickets and extensive clean up, even students who've suffered at the hands of the Madison police seem eager to do it all again this coming weekend.

Madison Music Institute student Isaac Chevako worked the Mifflin Street Block Party circuit last year, drinking with friends and enjoying an academia-free weekend. It wasn't until someone placed a beer in his hand as he stood on the sidewalk that the trouble began. Open alcohol is legal on private property -- in residents' homes and on their lawn -- but off the lawn, the cops take action. Chevako was arrested, put in a city bus full of other arrestees, and taken to the basement of a jailhouse. By virtue of double-jointed wrists, Chevako was able to escape his handcuffs and run for the door.

"This kid next to me was like, 'Just run,'" Chevako says. "And I'm kinda drunk, so I start running. I make it about 60 feet, and I think I'm home free when this cop grabs me and says, 'You're going to jail.'"

Chevako was placed in a holding cell, and then an actual jail cell, with four other men. After calling friends and family incessantly for two hours and spending seven hours in his jail cell, his father bailed him out. In the end, Chevako had to pay $2,200 in tickets and go to court to evade a potential felony charge.

Given the drama, is Chevako down on Mifflin? Not at all. In fact, he'll be there this weekend. But this time, he'll be sure not to step off the lawn.

Chevako's experience is a caution to all Mifflin partygoers, but what about the names on the leases of these houses? Is a weekend of partying worth the hours of cleanup and possible "distribution" tickets? According to residents, it's all about the preparation.

Matt Garbers and Ben Steiner lived together on Mifflin last year, and from the day they signed the lease, they were excited about the block party.

"You have to go into it knowing that this is the Mifflin block party," Steiner says. "When we were looking for a place to live, we thought, 'Oh, this is cool.' In fact, the party was an incentive."

Both Garbers and Steiner acknowledge that much can go wrong during the party, but a few precautions can ensure a great weekend. By protecting valuables, minimizing the alcohol inside the house and enlisting friends to help keep watch, Garbers and Steiner preempted any major incidents.

"We took all our valuables and designated one bedroom as a safe house," Steiner says. "Everything with any monetary value was in there and locked up for the day."

The men did not buy any alcohol for their house. Everyone who came to their house brought their own beverages, allowing then-underage Garbers and Steiner to avoid monstrous tickets. Friends also helped make sure no one broke doors or vandalized their property, a service the roommates say was critical to their great Mifflin experience.

Although they may have avoided fines and broken laptops, Garbers and Steiner logged countless hours cleaning up beer, garbage and even feces (!) after the fiasco. But looking back, they would do it again in a heartbeat.

"I definitely wish we lived on Mifflin and could do it all again," Garbers says. "A little terrifying with all the cops around, but all around a great day."

With another round of block party this weekend, one that now boasts official sponsorship from DCNY Pro (Facebook), students are eager to pounce on West Mifflin Street. They run the risk of being fined, thrown up on and even arrested, but it appears that students are happy to pay the price, if only for a great story.

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